Estimated reading time: 20 minute(s) All organizations must re-think how they manage their business as it relates to security, and in the case of solution providers specifically, how they deliver secure solutions to customers as well. Many vendors still haphazardly think of cybersecurity as a box that just has to get checked in an RFP in order to successfully sell their solutions. As if it was simply a matter of buying security off the shelf. However, the days of installing virus protection on computers and calling it good have long been over. Many executives still roll their eyes when discussions turn to cybersecurity. However, in today’s tech-driven world, it’s impossible to overlook the risks and exposure that cybersecurity threats pose to virtually every business. Billions of dollars are spent every year on defending against, and in some cases acquiescing to ransomware attacks, which are just one varietal of the many cybersecurity threats that are now prevalent. Bringing Security Front and Center Security now must be front and center with a core commitment that encapsulates all aspects of a business, including both internal and external factors. Security must be cultural in an organization and be given the same consistent commitment and investment that makes is a core business priority, no different than you would a quality initiative. Instilling a strong security culture (i.e., mindset and mode of operation) must be ingrained in corporate philosophy in order for it to be effective and maintained. It is not a project that has a start and an end date, but more a sustainable program that must continually advance and evolve through continued investment in order to keep up with the ever-changing and new threats. It’s no longer an IT- or Engineering-only issue. It’s top down, bottom up, cross department, cross vendor, and should be prominently considered as part of virtually every significant business decision. It must be instilled in the culture. So how do you make security cultural in an organization? You can’t simply wake up one morning and proclaim your solutions or organization are secure. There is a progression to security that enables some organizations to be more secure than others and the timelines to hardening security can typically be measured in years, not weeks or months. As with any other cultural growth initiative in an organization, it must start as an executive commitment and/or charter. Most manufacturing and software organizations have a charter that states something related to “delivering quality solutions.” Security should be put on a similar pedestal. In fact, I would argue it’s a core component of achieving quality today. How can you say you deliver a quality solution if your customer’s data centers, networks or other assets are unnecessarily subject to security breaches as a result of vulnerabilities in your solution? Does security not then become a quality-impacting issue? The ability of your solution to maintain availability, confidentiality, and integrity within a customer environment is as much a factor of quality as any material defects or bugs are. It starts with a corporate charter that identifies security as a priority to be considered in daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual planning. Like any other organizational charter, leadership must make room for the investment and resourcing required to make the security program a success. This is by far the biggest issue many companies face in moving towards security hardening – underestimating the resource and investment requirements to make it successful and sustainable. Once an executive commitment, funding plan, and directive have been established, the next step is to define a specific security standard/program to follow. It’s important to formalize a security program framework with a documented set of information security policies, procedures, guidelines, and standards. The framework provides a common language for understanding, managing, and expressing cybersecurity risks and goals to internal and external stakeholders. Security Frameworks There are many security frameworks, such as the one developed by the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) as it’s guidelines for cybersecurity. NIST best practices generally apply to physical security, policies, training, IT networks and communications systems. The current version of the NIST framework can be found at here. Any security program should include a road map for effective security management practices and controls. Having a security program will help ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the solutions provided, as well as protect business networks and operations. Using a framework helps identify and prioritize actions for reducing cybersecurity risk, as well as align business policies and technological approaches to managing risk. Many companies hire specialized consulting firms to help organize and implement a security framework. But whether consultants or internal resources are leveraged, it should be run as a formalized program within the organization. Identify Security Profile Once a security framework is established, the next step is to identify the current security profile based on the guidelines identified in the framework. This basically means identifying the current state in meeting the guidelines and what level of policy and process are in place to achieve success. For example, as a high level NIST breaks this evaluation down into four tiers: • Tier1 Partial – Ad-hoc and reactive • Tier2 Risk Informed – Approved policy and process in rolling out program • Tier3 Repeatable – Actively exercise policy and processes with change control implemented • Tier4 Adaptive – Policy is adapted to real cybersecurity activities This is a key component to developing and improving a security culture. The organization needs to be honest about its current state and starting point relative to the cybersecurity guidelines. Self-assessment will require cross department representation and can take a significant investment of time to do thoroughly and accurately. Fortunately, once you have completed this foundational work it will be much easier to maintain your profile going forward. Prioritize Cybersecurity Gaps The next step is to prioritize cybersecurity gaps (i.e., vulnerabilities) and identify what changes need to be made (i.e., target profile) within a specific timeline (i.e., road map) that makes sense and is practical for the business. Prioritization of items in the target profile is based on addressing items that pose the highest risk to the business first. This should be an iterative process, continually improving and expanding the security profile towards achieving Tier4 compliance. Rolling out a successful security program means getting all employees trained and providing clear visibility to the program and status. Visibility to the program across all levels of the organization is key, and it should be integrated into core business processes (e.g., product life-cycle process and program management office). Creating a cyber-secure culture requires giving security the same level of attention as other core organizational objectives. Creating response plans to cybersecurity threats to the organization is only one facet. Others include customer recovery support plans and standardized assessments of potential risks posed by chosen partners and vendors. To make security cultural, it must be a center piece of the organization’s mission, vision and values. By: Gary Stidham Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!
The Zetron Blog: Z-Wire
Tech Talk Vlog – Integrating Mission Critical Push-to-Talk with Emergency Communications Centers, Part 1
Estimated reading time: 5 minute(s) Recently recorded for the IWCE Virtual audience, Zetron’s video Tech Talk provides answers to important questions on integrating Mission Critical Push-to-Talk (MCPTT) with Emergency Communications Centers (ECCs). We’re now happy to share this insightful content, delivered by MCPTT subject matter expert Randy Richmond, as a Z-Wire vlog. Scroll down to view on YouTube. Interested in Mission Critical Push-to-Talk technology? Curious about what the technology will offer ECCs in contrast to LMR? Wondering what challenges are ahead for integrating MCPTT into existing ECC technology infrastructure? Do you regularly wear a propeller on your head? Ok, just joking on the last one, although fair warning that this is content intended to cover various technical aspects of MCPTT and ECC integration. So, if it’s technical answers you’re after regarding integrating MCPTT with ECCs, this video is a must and gets straight to the point (in less than 15 minutes): 1) How do the capabilities of MCPTT compare with those of LMR? 2) What is MCPTT Group Management, and why is it useful? 3) Can I upgrade an existing LMR console to do MCPTT? 4) Can an MCPTT console do LMR-to-MCPTT integration? 5) Is there an advantage to integrating MCPTT with GIS and CAD systems? 6) What about the MCPTT vendor’s dedicated MCPTT console? Enjoy the vlog and be on the look out soon for the second part of this mini-series where we’ll tackle more technical questions regarding MCPTT in ECCs, and other mission critical communications technology topics. By: Randy Richmond Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!
Estimated reading time: 21 minute(s) Thanks for tuning in for installment #2 in our Public Safety Dispatch Center 100-series blog. In the 101 post (Public Safety Dispatch Centers 101 – Terminology & Systems) I talked about dispatch center terminology, roles, and systems. In this post, I’ll be talking about the flow of a typical 9-1-1 call. Before we dive in, in case you’ve wondered about the origin of “9-1-1” being written with hyphens between the digits, as opposed to just “911,” it has to do with every child in US public schools receiving instruction on how to dial for an emergency. When 9-1-1 was first introduced, it was in fact written as “911” without hyphens. But some people read this as “nine eleven,” and children were sometimes confused because there was no “11” key on their phone. So it was changed to be written and spoken as “9-1-1” or “nine one one” (i.e., never “nine eleven”) to avoid confusion. OK, let’s get started. Figure 1 below illustrates the basic call flow of a typical 9-1-1 call. 1. A 9-1-1 call is generally initiated by on inbound call (or text) from a citizen dialing “9”, “1”, “1” (or in the case of an older PBX, an outside line prefix such as “9” may be needed first, no longer required for new PBXs because of Kari’s Law). Regardless of whether the call is from a wired analog phone, a cell phone, or a VoIP system, the call gets routed to the public switched telephone system (PSTN) where it gets special treatment. LOCATION 2. This process includes an attempt to locate the rough origin of the call, either by a street address (using the wired phone company’s records), or if wireless, by locating the cell site that the call is coming from. Based on this rough location, a database of Emergency Communications Centers (ECCs, also known as PSAPs) is searched to find the one that most likely covers that rough area. The call is then routed to that ECC. 3. At the ECC, the emergency call taking system begins to ring. If the ECC has Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) the call will be routed to the next available public safety telecommunicator (PST). If the ECC doesn’t have an ACD, then the call rings at every PST’s phone, to be answered by whomever is available. Once answered, the PST’s display shows the rough location of the caller, as well as a call back number. Typically, 10 seconds after the call, a more precise location is provided for wireless callers (by FCC rule, it is supposed to be within 30 meters of the actual caller 90% of the time). If this more precise location is needed by the PST, they can request a location data update by clicking a button on their screen. 4. The location is typically displayed both textually, and on a map via a Geographic Information System (GIS) CALLER DIALOG A PST will typically answer a call with “9-1-1, what is your emergency?” They are first trying to verify whether their ECC is the right one to handle this call, and if not, they will transfer the call appropriately. The answering ECC may have received a call that is from an adjacent jurisdiction (cell sites don’t fall on ECC boundaries). Or they may have received a call that is not for the public safety discipline they dispatch (e.g., the primary ECC may only dispatch for law enforcement, and the caller may have a need for fire or EMS). The first ECC to answer a call is the “Primary” ECC (or PSAP). An ECC that receives a transferred call is the “Secondary” ECC. 5. Once the right ECC has been established, the answering PST will ask additional questions of the caller to determine if and what kind of action the reported incident requires. If action is required, it becomes a “dispatchable incident” and the PST will enter the incident into their Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system. The CAD system, armed with the incident’s location and type, will then recommend which first responder field units should respond. At this point dispatch can be initiated. While dispatch is occurring, the answering PST may stay on the phone with the caller to talk the caller through ways to handle or mitigate the emergency. In the case of medical emergencies, the answering PST can give pre-arrival instructions on first aid and CPR to aid citizens on-scene until medics arrive. Sometimes the answering PST will remain with the caller until the dispatched first responders arrive on scene. DISPATCH 6. Dispatch can either occur automatically via data for field units equipped with mobile CAD terminals, or manually via voice transmitted through a Dispatch Console. In the case of voice dispatching, in small centers, the same PST who answered the call, also does the dispatching. In larger centers, there may be PSTs dedicated only to call taking, and others dedicated only to dispatching, and CAD is used to pass the incident information to the right dispatching PST (all PSTs, regardless of duties, will typically have access to CAD). In the case of data dispatching via mobile CAD, the data is typically sent via cellular data service (including present-day FirstNet). 7. Once field units are dispatched, CAD tracks who has been dispatched so that all PSTs know the status of their first responders. First responders actively involved in an incident are removed from the list of available resources and won’t be dispatched again until they clear themselves from the incident. First responders equipped with mobile CAD can clear themselves from an incident. Those without mobile CAD will radio in their status to the ECC dispatch PST. Often times, law enforcement (LE) responders are by themselves. Dispatch PSTs have a role in ensuring their safety. Every time an LE responder responds to an incident, their status is tracked in CAD. If the LE responder doesn’t respond again within a preset time threshold, their dispatcher is notified and the PST will then try to contact the LE responder to verify they are safe. Once dispatched, field units are often instructed to use a specific tactical Land Mobile Radio (LMR) channel with which to conduct their incident communications (especially in the Fire/EMS service). This ensures the main dispatch channel remains free for subsequent dispatching. RECORDING 8. All voice communications, including the 9-1-1 call and the radio dispatch traffic, are recorded on archival logging recorders. This is mandated by law in many states. The recording becomes part of the public record and can be obtained by FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests or lawyer subpoenas in court cases. But ECC supervisors also use recordings to survey the performance of PSTs to ensure the ECC’s policies are being met, and for training/coaching purposes to improve future responses. In addition to the long term archival recordings, various systems also record the most recent voice traffic and make it quickly accessible to the PSTs who were involved. This allows those PSTs to replay voice traffic that may not have been initially understood, and helps eliminate the need to ask for information to be repeated as new voice traffic. The recording systems can also record “meta data” associated with voice traffic. In the case of 9-1-1 callers, this can include the location and call back number of the caller. In the case of radio traffic, this can include the talker’s radio ID, status and in more advanced systems, the location of the first responder who was originating the traffic. Increasingly, archival logging recorders are also recording other data, such as CAD keystrokes, screen shots, and other info that can help recreate the sequence of events during an incident. For actual CAD records, the CAD system typically archives that information itself. That wraps up our Public Safety Dispatch Center 102 post on 9-1-1 call flows. If you have comments, questions, or points you’d like to add please post them. Stay tuned for installment #3, How Does 9-1-1 Know Where I Am? By: Randy Richmond Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!
Estimated reading time: 19 minute(s) Billed as the first communications network dedicated to emergency services, FirstNet promises to deliver a dynamic and reliable vehicle for first responders to transmit and receive critical data in the field. Built with today’s real-time technology in mind, this innovative service not only enables situational awareness but elevates it to the status of instant intelligence. However, the service and equipment aren’t free. And while many departments have no issue making room in their budgets for mission critical equipment and services, the numbers and statistics cannot answer a key question on the minds of public safety agencies we at Zetron work with every day. How will FirstNet change the way we work? It’s a great question. While the rollout and adoption of FirstNet (and other dedicated public safety networks around the world) is not happening overnight obviously, it’s advanced enough for us to now have a much better idea on how to answer that than we did even just a year ago. So let’s take a look. We’ll start with a summary of three high level, but highly important ways FirstNet is going to impact the daily lives of those in public safety. If you then decide you want to explore it deeper you’re in luck, because we have some additional informational resources we can offer to help you gain a deeper and more thorough understanding of the full impact that FirstNet and other national public safety broadband networks (NPSBNs) are going to have on Emergency Communications Centers (ECCs) but let’s talk high level impacts first. 3 ways FirstNet Will Impact the Daily Lives of those in Public Safety 1. Evolutionary Responder Awareness and Command Visibility Whether you’re an emergency dispatcher facilitating a multi-jurisdictional response to a natural disaster, a police officer responding to a report of shots fired, a firefighter searching for victims in a smoke-filled apartment building, or a paramedic juggling multiple patients at the scene of a mass casualty incident, the slightest shift in conditions could result in tragedy. Staying connected and cognizant of your situation and surroundings is crucial to doing the job effectively and ensuring everyone goes home safe. And while high profile incidents typically only make up a small percentage of calls, the ability to send and receive up to the minute information, communicate with your crew, and maintain real time location information accuracy for all responding personnel on every call is vital. Aside from ascertaining incident details via text and audio, FirstNet also enables connectivity for accessing the internet, querying internal databases, and easily viewing and/or streaming live on-scene footage. Plus, because the network integrates with both departmental and Internet of Things (IoT) data systems, and supports Pusg-to-talk (PTT) and VoIP technology, access to the latest update or nearest backup unit is only a click away. Speaking of interoperability, FirstNet transforms command visibility and takes resource coordination to another level. Besides enabling dispatchers, command supervisors, and field units to identify, deploy, and organize resources based on a real time, birds-eye view of the scene, FirstNet’s dynamic and flexible service allows for mobile crew coordination and inter-agency communication during peak air times without having to worry about bottlenecks or break downs due to congestion. 2. Uncompromising Coverage, Network Prioritization, and Service Reliability During special events, critical incidents, or disasters, traffic can flood the network making it difficult to get through. Worse still, weak signals or dropped calls can distort the message, leading to further chaos or confusion. This legacy, but very real and frustrating issue is slated to be a distant memory for public safety communications agencies on FirstNet. In fact, the network was constructed to ensure first responders receive lightning-fast, priority service, and a usable signal regardless of traffic or location. What this means is no matter the situation – there will be a signal, and the call will go through every time. And while that sounds like a tall order, keep in mind the entire system was forged on the promise of reliability, resilience, and redundancy. Whether it’s by extending the reach of your traditional radio system or empowering public safety with service capable of handling substantial data needs – FirstNet was built to stay on and keep working. Even when others can’t. 3. Advanced Data Security Data security is a hot button issue when it comes to emergency services. Whether you’re ensuring the confidentiality of a patient’s medical records in transit, preserving the integrity of digital evidence from a fire, or safeguarding vehicle data collected at a crash, as a professional, you must make sure the tools you use don’t compromise your effectiveness, or the credibility or liability of your agency. Unfortunately, that’s not all you have to worry about. Right now, we are at a crossroads for cybersecurity. Every day, across the nation, public safety agencies are finding themselves caught in a never-ending battle to defend their information systems from malicious actors, ransomware, or other cyber attacks. Having encrypted technology is no longer an afterthought. It’s integral to the mission and is why data security is yet another area where FirstNet excels. Because of the dynamic structure of FirstNet, both static and mobile data stays encrypted and secure throughout its journey. Meaning you can leverage mission critical data applications without worrying about sending sensitive information and it potentially falling into the wrong hands. Recapping from the Top To sum up, FirstNet will transform how public safety communicates. Instead of trying to adjust the approach to fit the limitations of the tools, first responders can focus on scene safety and mission success, knowing they have the right communication technology in place to support their capabilities. Besides enabling first responders to collaborate and make critical decisions based on the latest updates, FirstNet’s advanced security features allow responders to send and receive sensitive information without risking integrity or confidentiality. On top of that, the system functions as a force multiplier – enabling command to deploy, manage, expedite, and reallocate resources on the fly. But of course, the biggest advantage lies in FirstNet’s resiliency, redundancy, and ranking of network traffic. Simply put, FirstNet provides first responders peace of mind that they’ll always be connected with both field personnel and communications centers with a strong, clear signal – no matter the incident or location. As far as benefits go – you can’t put a value on that. Related Resources Ready to learn more about enhancing public safety communications through FirstNet or other NPSBNs? Check out some of our other new related resources today. eBook: The State of FirstNet: What Public Safety Officials Need to Know About Firstnet and How It Interworks with P25 Systems On Demand Webinar: The What, Why & How of FirstNet Integration for Emergency Communications Centers White Paper: The Importance of “FirstNet-Ready” for Mission Critical Communications By: Paul Guest Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!
Estimated reading time: 11 minute(s) In emergency communications, there’s a fine line between situational awareness and information overload. On one hand, it’s imperative to know what information to capture and relay to your units in the field. On the other, too much information can lead to confusion and hinder decision-making abilities for everyone involved. While you may not be able to eliminate the chaos or drown out the noise entirely, having uncluttered, easy-to-read screens can help you stay grounded, focused, and productive. For emergency dispatchers, keeping the most frequently used resources within arm’s reach is essential. However, this can be difficult for those who work in a communication center that handles 9-1-1 calls and radio traffic for multiple departments. For one, it’s impossible to know when and where the next emergency will happen. And two, depending on the situation, the resources you need can change within a fraction of a second. It’s vital to have the capability to shift gears quickly without losing track of units, assignments, or pending tasks. Call Taking Workstations As the point of entry into the 9-1-1 center, the call taking workflow is key to streamline and simplify tasks. An effective call queue set-up can distinguish emergency calls from non-emergency calls for faster response times on critical calls. Radio Dispatch Consoles Having your dispatch console screens configured in a manner that supports a busy dispatcher makes it much easier to rearrange resources, prioritize functions, identify users, broadcast alerts, initiate playback, and snooze distractions—helping you stay organized and in control no matter the call. CAD and Database Screens Managing a never-ending stream of caller updates, critical data, and responder requests can be overwhelming during busy shifts. Regardless of how experienced you are, it’s easy to overlook key details when you’re juggling an onslaught of calls and bouncing between multiple work screens. And though perfection is impossible, the truth is—in this business, errors can happen and reacting to them quickly is crucial. Your co-workers and your community are counting on you to get it right. While the ability to perform under pressure is by far a dispatcher’s most valuable asset, the tools you use can, and do affect the outcome, making it worthwhile to simplify as much as possible. Creating work screen configurations that enable you to send and receive updates, access, collect, assess, record, and share both static and dynamic information, can help your agency boost response times, ensure safety and improve effectiveness. GPS and AVL Displays Keeping track of callers, incidents, and unit locations isn’t always simple, though. Callers may not know or be able to accurately articulate where they are, and these events aren’t always static. Even worse, some incidents may take place in isolated areas with limited GPS coverage. Add to that the challenge of assignments that span several jurisdictions or require a multitude of resources, and you’ll see why having accurate and maneuverable mapping displays are, without a doubt, mission-critical. Since mapping accuracy is subject to the 9-1-1 data from the carrier, agency radio AVL/GPS technology and the various GIS map layers. As a result, many agencies have started investing in these tools to add to their arsenals and wishlists. Yet some of the newer platforms may not function properly with older communications technology. As a rule, mapping software should be set to automatically populate and update location status in real-time in correlation with 9-1-1, mobile unit, and CAD data systems. With that in mind, it’s important to ensure the GIS or AVL technology you choose integrates with your command and communication console and facilitates seamless information transfer across various networks, platforms, positions and screens. Going forward, the primary thing to remember is: while the goal of protecting life and property may be similar across all disciplines and locations—no two agencies are exactly alike. The emergency communications equipment you use should always complement and support your agency’s capabilities, capacity, and mission. By: Diane Harris, ENP & John Martyn Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!
Estimated reading time: 23 minute(s) Newsflash Z-Wire has taken a bit of a hiatus from our regular schedule. When we launched Z-wire last year, our goal was to bring innovative, thought provoking and insightful content to our mission critical communications markets, and it’s been off to a great start. Then came COVID-19. Z-Wire, much like the rest of the world, has been operating on a modified schedule these days. While we still have great content scheduled for the rest of 2020, many of the topics we planned to cover, while timely and important in the “normal” world of mission critical communications, quickly became a bit lower in priority given our “new normal.” As such, we’ve re-aligned our recent focus to provide our worldwide employees, partners, customers, and markets with more presently pertinent updates and information in the midst of COVID-19. Some of that communication has come from Zetron’s President and CEO, Brent Dippie by way of the Coronavirus Public Notice page we created for these specific updates. As noted in the latest update on April 24th, we’re finally beginning to see glimmers of hope for a gradual return to normalcy along with any short and long term adjustments to what normal will look like in the wake of this pandemic. So, while our ‘regularly scheduled programming’ and more importantly, life as we once knew it before the Coronavirus, will soon hopefully begin to return to “normal,” today we’ll leverage Z-Wire to summarize and share some of the useful information we’ve been providing to customers, partners and employees regarding the elephant that’s still very much in the room. Keep On Keeping On First and foremost, Zetron and many of our partners provide valuable tools and resources to agencies and organizations in the public safety, transportation, healthcare and other critical sectors that are both on the front lines, as well as some of the hardest hit so far. So we’ve made it our chief responsibility to maintain continuity and reliability within our business to prevent disruptions or outages to the vital services provided by our customers battling the pandemic. Since Zetron supplies public safety and other critical infrastructure agencies around the world, we’re classified as an “essential business” to support our mission critical customers. So making numerous temporary changes to how we operate in order to sustain the health and safety of our team and the integrity of our business operations so as to avoid any negative impacts to customer support has been the most important thing we can do since this began. And it still remains our top priority. Adjusting to New Workplace Guidelines As pandemic conditions have evolved, many of our customers have contacted us specifically about our emergency, temporary, and/or remote call handling and dispatch workstation capabilities for mission critical communications systems in order to better enforce workplace social distancing requirements and/or prop up contingency workstations in non-traditional locations to accommodate reduced, temporary, or contingent staffing and operational needs. We’ve since created a way, specifically for communication centers (Zetron customers or not) to get in touch with us regarding their emergency needs or anticipated longer term needs for more versatile, mobile and/or remote dispatch and workstation needs. Let’s Keep It Clean Needless to say, an even more tactical and immediate concern for all communications centers has been to keep their existing shared systems and working environments clean and safe. For that reason, we published a guide for Sanitizing Zetron Equipment, including best practices and tips for how to properly disinfect and keep workstations sanitary, as well as what cleaning products to use to ensure effectiveness, and which products should not be used. No He Said She Said Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, misinformation and clickbait headlines have prevailed throughout the Coronavirus crisis and there has been no shortage of questionable coverage at best. Despite this, there have also been many credible, reliable and relevant resources published with useful information, tips, best practices and findings related to the crisis that have a direct impact or domain relevance to Zetron customers. Here are a few we found to be trustworthy: ‣ The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) Coronavirus Resources page has a number of useful resources for those in Emergency Response, including 9-1-1 & COVID-19: A Report on PSAPs During the Pandemic and a variety of other COVID-related online resources categorized by topic area. ‣ The Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International has created a webpage dedicated to aiding APCO members in learning more about COVID-19 and how agencies can prepare, with topical webinars and published recommendations from a variety of sources, including the CDC, WHO and FEMA. ‣ The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) in association with the National Association of State EMS Officials (NASEMSO) have published a COVID-19 Policy Guidance Checklist for EMS Agencies. ‣ The Collaborative Coalition for International Public Safety (CC:IPS) released a Global Recommendations for Emergency Services Organisations to Manage the Outbreak of COVID-19 guide. ‣ The National Association of State 911 Administrators (NASNA) have created a webpage including guidance for PSAPs with regards to handling inquiries and responding to patients with suspected COVID-19 symptoms, and for keeping first responders safe. ‣ The European Emergency Number Association (EENA) has created a webpage containing a selection of documents, lessons learnt, guidelines and more that can help support the work of emergency services. ‣ ITS America has published a COVID-19 response report reviewing governmental resources for transportation agencies. Help (& Recovery) Is On the Way We are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Governments worldwide are engaging to provide critical funding and assistance to public/private businesses and individuals for enduring, overcoming, and ultimately recovering from the pandemic. In the U.S. alone, a $2.2 trillion dollar stimulus package, followed more recently by a $480 million business relief package, have been passed by the federal government to help people and businesses weather the storm. There is also the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding (CESF) Program. A grant being offered by the US Department of Justice to state and local governments to specifically help in preventing, preparing for, and responding to the Coronavirus. Necessary upgrades, expansions, or additions to public safety technologies, including the mission critical communications solutions provided by Zetron and its authorized partners, are eligible for CESF grant awards. Going forward, we expect this to be just the beginning of what will be continued aggressive actions by federal governments worldwide to fuel recovery. Positive signs we’re on our way to getting to the other side of this. Many Zetron customers in public safety, transportation, utilities, healthcare and correctional institutions are now successfully advancing from merely navigating the pandemic, to looking forward and making plans to more permanently implement the many short term contingency modifications made in light of it (e.g., workstation distancing, remote capabilities, back-up capacity, etc.) for the long term. These measures will help us be better prepared for future emergencies, public health or otherwise. So if your organization is currently considering communications mobility, temporary workstations, overflow/queue management, remote operations or other new necessities to make your center more versatile and prepared, whether Zetron solutions can be part of the plan or not, we are here to help. Finally, especially to those who have courageously and tirelessly stood strong on the front lines of this from the beginning, we thank you. The everyday heroes and first responders in emergency communications centers around the world that Zetron is fortunate to serve day in and day out, are always there to unwavering and marvelously answer the call for all of us, even through the darkest days. We need to continue to recognize and honor their heroics. If we can help, please let us know. Visit our Contact page for general inquiries or simply email us at email@example.com and we’ll connect you with the resources and/or assistance needed. Technical support for our customers remains available 24x7x365 as always, simply visit https://www.zetron.com/sales-support/#support. Try to stay safe, strong, patient, kind, and optimistic. We will get to the other side of this soon. By: Jim Shulkin Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!
Estimated reading time: 14 minute(s) Over the last few weeks, we have all witnessed life as we know it turned inside out by the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. It seems the world has changed overnight. Social distancing, homeschooling, working from home, and staying inside are now the new buzzwords on our newsfeeds. Besides health concerns, financial worries and anxieties over the availability of essential resources and supplies weigh heavily on us all. And in truth, even the most confident and introverted people among us are getting restless. But while there is little doubt our world will come through these events stronger than ever, there is also no hiding the facts. These are uncertain times. And although much of the world is on pause right now, it’s important to recognize and say thank you to those among us who cannot stay in or stand still. Besides the brave and relentless healthcare workers on the front lines, we must also acknowledge and extend our gratitude to our nation’s first responders. Our EMTs and paramedics, firefighters, law enforcement officers, public safety dispatchers, 9-1-1 operators, and everyone else working day and night to keep our communities healthy, safe, and operational. These people are our partners, our customers, our family, and our friends. In truth, they deserve so much more than our well wishes. They deserve our support, our patience, our kindness, and our sincere appreciation. If you are a first responder, including those working tirelessly and selflessly in telecommunicator and dispatch roles within emergency communicatons centers, please know the world appreciates all you do, and we recognize everything you sacrifice to protect the people we love. Thank you for your kindness, courage, and leadership. We are humbled by your courage and astounded by your generosity and dedication. You are the backbone of our society. Please take care of yourself and keep one another grounded, healthy, and safe. With this in mind, it’s paramount for all our first responders to acknowledge and address the unique challenges created by fighting this pandemic 24/7. Aside from the standard guidelines for PPE precautions, safe distancing, frequent hand washing, and staying mindful of physical symptoms or isolation protocols, adequate nutrition, and rest is also essential. So is mental wellbeing. During these trying times, first responders are powering through staggering levels of stress, physical strain, and mental exhaustion. If you are among this community, please understand, although it may feel the fate of your community is resting on you, and in some cases, it may be—we also recognize you are human. You are only capable of so much. Yes, we need you to keep showing up and stay healthy, but at the same time, we need you to give yourself and your crew a break. It’s essential to rest when you can. Likewise, be sure to take time to check on your family, to enjoy the solace of a five-minute walk, and to revel in the too-rare instances of a hot meal or humorous conversation. We promise the world will understand. On that note, if you are stuck inside, go for a quick walk around the building, step outside and just breathe or watch a silly online video. No matter how chaotic, remember to take time to clear your mind and relieve some of the tension. Likewise, although the pressure to perform is high, please remember you are not alone. Chances are your co-workers are experiencing the same fatigue, frustrations, and hardships. Like you, they are also dealing with the best and worst of human nature, while at the same time worrying over how to stay in touch with family and friends. Please remember to be patient and kind to one another, to lean on each other for support, and make each other smile when you can. Also, if you need professional support, again, you are not alone. If you need to talk, don’t hesitate to reach out to your agency’s mental health team. Remember, you are the reason they are there. No matter how awkward it may feel, understand these people are committed to your wellbeing. In turn, they will do everything they can to help you through this. No one will think anything less of you, and in truth, no one has to know. As far as technical and equipment support for your command center, understand nothing has changed on Zetron’s end. Although we’ve modified how we work, we are still here for your agency—24/7/365. Please do not hesitate to contact our team if there is anything we can do to better support your agency’s mission critical needs or help your command center operate more efficiently. We are all in this together, and we will stand beside you in this fight. Visit our Coronavirus Public Notice page for updates regarding Zetron and what we’re doing to remain available and accessible to those that need us. Lastly, for those of you planning on attending IWCE this August, Zetron will be there to greet you. Although we are disappointed to have missed the opportunity to see you earlier, we recognize the gravity of the situation. As such, we are committed to keeping our customers, partners, and employees safe. Rest assured, we will all be back together this summer, stronger and better than ever. Together we will get through these challenging times. Thank you from all of us at Zetron. Going forward, please stay safe and take care of one another.
Estimated reading time: 17 minute(s) We should all know the value of annual health check-ups, vehicle tune-ups, and performance reviews, right? Yes, they’re a pain, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively, but they’re essential, nonetheless. Why? Because they help us stay healthy, safe, and productive. Taking some relatively simple preventative measures can pay big dividends in the long run, as opposed to waiting for something to go wrong before you get a check-up. Whoever coined the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” probably lived in a time when the average life expectancy was 40, and they certainly didn’t work in mission-critical communications. So think about this. When was the last time your emergency communication center had its annual checkup? If it’s been less than a year, you’re likely golden. But if not, it’s probably time to get on it. Why? Because people rely on the equipment and services in your dispatch center to keep them healthy, safe, and productive. See where we’re going with this? Now we know what you’re thinking. Who has the time or budget for that? And we get that. But don’t worry, the process doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. In fact, you can break a general communications assessment down into three separate stages or about four to five inexpensive services. Stage 1: The Preventative Maintenance Check If you dispatch for multiple departments, start with control station radios. Think about the last time the equipment underwent stress testing and make sure you check every component. Since these systems operate on dependencies, even the slightest issue could point to a severe problem down the road. Next is sound and clarity. Consider the signal strength. Are the radios meeting the antenna output specs? If they aren’t, find out why. Likewise, is the reception as sensitive as it should be? Missed transmissions are a problem no one wants during a critical incident and are especially crucial during the winter months when there’s more severe weather. One last question. Are all of the subscribers transmitting on frequency? While it’s easy for someone to switch channels accidentally, some radios can experience signal drift all on their own. If this happens in the field, it may be harder to trace the source of the problem. With that in mind, checking each subscriber annually can help catch the issue before it becomes a hazard. Moving onto batteries and power supplies, how long has it been since you’ve checked the status of your UPS? It’s essential to load-test the system ensure everything is functioning as it should. Also, remember to have your technician confirm the connection cables are not loose or damaged. Along the same lines, your backup batteries should never be more than two to three years old. Consider replacing them if they are because no one wants to discover the batteries won’t charge at 1 am on a holiday weekend or when call volumes are higher than usual. Stage 2: The Technology Review Look around at the communications equipment in your dispatch center and think about the age of your system. Where is the console in its lifecycle? Will the manufacturer cover the costs if something breaks? Even more important, if the system breaks are replacement parts even still available? If you have doubts, it’s always best to check your sales and service agreements. Remember, it’s better to research a replacement or upgraded system while yours is still fully operable. Doing so allows you to keep your options open, consider funding sources, solicit feedback from your staff, and, most importantly, avoid downtime. While we’re on the subject of upgrades, does your current setup fit your needs? Are there enough workstations, monitors, and speakers? Besides the typical hardware or accessories, consider add-on applications, such as integrated CAD or RMS. Would these additions make your communications center more efficient or effective? Now might be the perfect time to examine the cost and feasibility of adding equipment, especially with all the changes stemming from Next Generation 9-1-1 and FirstNet. Not to mention the inevitable list of APCO and FCC updates we’re bound to see as smart technology and digital communications become more mainstream. In that respect, it’s never too early to think about the future. Adopting these services ahead of the rush will help your responders and operations staff adjust to the changes without the added pressure of deadlines. Stage 3: The Functionality Audit While room configurations might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a communications assessment, having the right setup is integral to functionality. After all, how many hours does your staff spend at their workstations staring at multiple monitors and juggling keyboards? Probably a lot. Whether they’re dispatching, answering 9-1-1, or running data—your staff needs a functional workspace to perform their duties. Meaning cords, cables, and wires should be unobtrusive and not easily dislodged whenever someone reaches for the radio or phone. Likewise, sit to stand consoles, or wireless headsets can make all the difference in a 16-hour shift. Even new chairs can bring relief to aching necks or backs. All of these options can be added over time and don’t have to cost a ton to be effective. One last thing. Remember to talk to your solutions provider(s) before changing workstation or equipment layouts. While some of these updates may be easy to implement, if you need to relocate monitors, chargers, racks, or towers, it’s essential to consult with your communications technician before adjusting or rearranging anything. There may be an underlying reason for the equipment’s current location. Okay, that’s it — you’re good to go for another year. See, the whole process doesn’t sound that bad. Does it? We guarantee it’s a lot less expensive and a lot less stressful than the alternatives of unanticipated failures, breakdowns, or safety hazards. And who knows? You may find that your communication center is running at 100 percent. If not, at least you’re ahead of the problem, and you may have the evidence you need to get approval for that new system or application you’ve been looking at. Either way, it’s a win for your team. Especially considering the stakes involved in emergency communications. By: Paul Guest Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!
Estimated reading time: 18 minute(s) Bolster Your Backup Communications Center If you work in emergency and/or mission-critical dispatch, you already know maintaining backup communications center is a necessary evil. Whether you’re dealing with routine calls, large-scale incidents, special events, power failures, etc., having a contingency plan for coordinating field operations and teams or communicating with first responders is critical to the mission. Even more important is the ability to get these services mobilized quickly and with minimal interruption to your agency and community. That said, backup communications centers are rarely equipped with the same tools you’re used to working with. Depending on your agency’s current setup, the thought of operating from the backup center for any period of time might be enough to make your team want to hide under their headsets and reconsider their career choices. Besides diminished sound quality and limited recording capabilities, painfully slow programs and dark cramped workstations can make the job even more stressful than usual. Even worse, the time it takes to shuttle personnel and settle in these temporary spaces wastes countless hours and usually results in at least some communications breakdowns. But it doesn’t have to be this difficult. Nor should it be. With a bit of planning and ingenuity, you can make your backup center more functional and less frustrating—even on a tight budget. How? I’ll get to that. But first, let’s go over some of the more common issues we see with backup operations. Outdated equipment and user interfaces Backup centers often don’t have to be state-of-the-art. But at the bare minimum, they should be functional enough to enable seamless information transfer. Unfortunately, many backup centers rely on outdated hardware or mobile solutions to perform communication center tasks. Not only can working with older equipment hinder comprehension, but it can also disrupt the transmission flow or overload channels. And while these issues might not be a huge problem at first, during an emergency, even a minor miscommunication or error could pose a significant safety hazard. Limited paging and monitoring functions Most backup solutions only allow dispatchers to monitor one channel at a time. Even when utilizing the scan function, you still might miss priority messages. Which is not exactly a comforting thought given the possible ramifications. Being able to locate and speak to all units in the field isn’t a nicety. It’s necessary. And very much mission-critical. Whether your team is in the backup or the main operations center, dispatchers must be able to monitor as many channels as it takes to confirm all units receive proper coverage. Another problem? If your agency is responsible for dispatching fire, EMS, or specialized teams, having limited paging functions can lead to delayed responses or accidental activation’s. What’s worse? Some volunteer agencies use complicated systems of on and off-duty tones to organize primary and secondary crews. While a few false activation’s might not cause permanent damage, prolonged loss of full paging capabilities can lead to inertia and dampen morale. Therefore, to ensure alarms are routed to the right people, at the right time, backup solutions should come equipped with the same dispatch and paging functionalities as the primary console. No prioritization, cross-muting, or unit identifier capabilities Nobody likes to fight for airtime. Especially when you have priority calls to hand out and that one unit, everyone knows and loves, won’t stop talking. While no one wants to be the person to ruin a good radio monologue, airwaves are precious space. It’s bad enough when other units can’t transmit their messages, but when dispatch can’t cut in or call for silence, things can get downright dangerous. Having the ability to control the channel is vital to keeping everyone safe and informed. With this in mind, all backup center systems should possess master console prioritization capabilities. And yes, while every operator on a channel should be allowed to speak, if everyone talks at once, no one will actually be heard. Equally important, without cross-muting functions, it can sound like your transmitting across the Grand Canyon. Inconsistent volume, squelch, or echoes often transform critical messages into games of guess, decipher, or repeat. At the same time, not having playback functionalities can make these situations that much worse. Whether you are operating from the comfort of your brand new command center or from a dark basement in an old municipal building—being able to talk, hear, and understand clearly is imperative. Especially when tensions are high, and the clock is ticking. Further still, when a unit requires assistance but isn’t able to make a verbal request, hitting the emergency key can save their life. This means dispatchers not only need to know the second an emergency key is activated but also who activated the signal. In the interest of officer safety, unit emergency identifiers should be non-negotiable in all dispatch centers—including backup locations. While it may be true that these situations don’t happen often, they only have to happen once to turn into a tragedy. Having access to a display that includes unit identifiers is crucial to making sure everyone gets to go home at the end of their shift. Solutions that can help keep your backup communications center operating at full power. CommandIQ Whether you’re already running MAX Dispatch or looking to boost your backup capabilities with the next console purchase, CommandIQ might be a worthwhile solution to consider. CommandIQ is a fully functional pre-configurable portable dispatch solution… Designed for easy storage and even easier setup, the compact CommandIQ console itself can be kept out of the way in a drawer, mounted on a wall, or placed on any flat surface. Need to add speakers, foot pedals, headsets, or microphones? Not a problem. These accessories are available for CommandIQ workstations. For standalone systems with CommandIQ consoles, Zetron offers rugged protective transport cases and extra power supplies to create a complete mobile dispatch solution in a self-contained package. CommandIQ workstations come complete with an event recorder capable of capturing up to fifteen minutes of recall. It also supports four different workspace profile screens and up to 16 radio channels, making it perfect for backup centers, mobile command units, training stations, and even Emergency Operations Centers. And because CommandIQ runs the full version of MAX Dispatch, your team will have access to the same user-friendly interface, button configurations, and mission-critical functionalities they rely on every day. While not the only way to bolster your secondary communications center, adding the CommandIQ portable dispatch solution can help your team keep focused, confident, and productive no matter their mission or their location. By: John Martyn Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!
Estimated reading time: 16 minute(s) Are you new to the world of public safety communications? Perhaps you’re familiar with the two-way radios commonly used in public safety, but don’t know much about public safety dispatch centers. If that’s the case, this 100 level series of blogs is for you! The first installment addresses basic terminology and the systems found within a typical dispatch center. To start with, let’s cover common terms used to describe the dispatch center. PSAP Public Safety Answering Point. This is the 9-1-1 centric name for dispatch centers, and can be used to describe the centers that answer 9-1-1 calls ECC Emergency Communications Center. ECC has become a relatively new term for public safety dispatch centers. These centers answer 9-1-1 calls or dispatches them, or both. Types of ECCs Primary vs. Secondary PSAP. A “primary” PSAP is an ECC who first answers a 9-1-1 call. If that ECC isn’t able to help the caller, they may transfer the call to a “secondary” PSAP who is more likely to handle the needed service. For example, in Redmond where Zetron’s headquarters are located, when we call 9-1-1 (which does happen on occasion), it’s answered by the King County Sheriff’s Office (KSCO) (our Primary PSAP here in Washington. If it’s fire or EMS that’s needed, KCSO transfers the call to the Redmond Fire Department (our Secondary PSAP). Single Agency vs Multi-Agency ECC. Local government is made up of several agencies with adjacent and overlapping jurisdictions. In some cases, a single agency, like the Seattle Fire Department, for example might have its own ECC. In this case the ECC employees are typically employees of the agency. However, most ECCs are multi-agency, handling dispatching for multiple services (fire/EMS, police), and/or multiple jurisdictions, usually a combination of cities and counties. In such cases, the ECC is typically an independent agency whose board is comprised of the agencies they serve. Roles within an ECC PST – Public Safety Telecommunicator (formerly known as a TC). This is the person who answers 9-1-1 calls (Call Taker), or dispatches the patrolman (Dispatcher). In smaller ECCs, a Public Safety Telecommunicator is likely to handle both call taking and dispatching from the same workstation. In larger ECCs, the call taking and dispatching staff may be assigned to different PSTs working at different workstations. Supervisor – They’re often the most senior PST on the shift who’s responsible for supervising and overseeing the training of other PSTs. It’s common for a supervisor to be an active PST themselves as well. Administrator – Typically, one or two administrators run the ECC, manages all the ECC staff, interacts with vendors, and reports to the agency or its “Board” that the ECC serves. Sometimes, when call takers or dispatchers are in in a pinch, an administrator, who has come up from the PST ranks, can also help with call taking/dispatching. Technicians & Specialists – In a modern ECC, there are also specialists and technicians to manage the various systems within the ECC, but they don’t take an active role in processing calls. In larger centers this may include dedicated IT staff. ECC Systems 9-1-1 Call Taking – This system is interfaced to the regional 9-1-1 network. Its purpose is to connect citizens with public safety personnel. It conveys voice (and in the case of Next Generation 9-1-1, text also), along with the caller’s phone number (ANI – Automatic Number Identification), and the caller’s approximate location (ALI – Automatic Location Information). Example system: Zetron’s MAX Call Taking. Radio Dispatch (aka “Console”) – This system is interfaced with the LMR (Land Mobile Radio) system of each agency (there may be several). Its purpose is to connect the ECC with first responders in the field (Fire, EMS, Law Enforcement). It conveys voice, and in modern LMR systems, it can convey the ID of the caller’s (ANI), as well as the caller’s emergency status. In some advanced LMR systems, it can also convey the location of the field units. Example systems: Zetron’s MAX Dispatch and ACOM Command & Control. CAD – Computer Aided Dispatch – This system is used to create events that require dispatching, often referred to as “incidents”events that require dispatching), and to track the availability of field resources (first responders, and specialty apparatus). Its purpose is to make recommendations for which resources to dispatch based on the location and type of incident. This system is the PST’s primary focus, and also the most expensive system within the ECC. Example system: Zetron’s MAX CAD. GIS – Graphical Information System – This system is used to map the location of 9-1-1 callers, and can also be used to determine the location of the various field first responders/apparatus. This system helps assists the PSTs decision on which resource is best situated to respond to an incident. Example system: Zetron’s MAX GIS. Archive Recorder – This system is used to record the voice traffic from 9-1-1 calls, as well as the LMR system, and often records “meta data” such as the ID and location of the talker too. The purpose of the system is to provide legal traceability, and to aid in continual improvement of responses (both PSTs and first responders). When a media reporter submits a FOIA (freedom of information act) request to an agency, the source of the information is typically the archive recorder. A PST has to interact with most, if not all of these systems, using multiple PCs andvideo monitors at their Workstation (aka “position”). Today’s systems are all IP (Internet Protocol) based data networks with servers located in the ECC. These systems are designed with Five 9’s (99.999%) availability because lives depend on it. Ok newbie, I know you’ve got plenty more questions, and I plan to get to them in subsequent installments of this blog. The next one will be Public Safety Dispatch Centers 102 – 9-1-1 Call Flow If you have specific questions about Public Safety ECCs, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll try to ensure we get that covered before this series is complete. By: Randy Richmond Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!